Interviews, Press

Avishai Cohen JazzWise Interview – Shifting Sands

Avishai Cohen (b), Elchin Shirinov (p) and Roni Kaspi (d). Rec. August 2022

Following the orchestral manoeuvres of 2021’s epic Two Roses, shape-shifting Israeli bassist Cohen returns to the trio format – and the result might just be his best album since Gently Disturbed 14 years ago. The protean qualities that make Cohen such a compelling musician to follow are also married to a consistency that’s remarkable for so lengthy and varied a career – compositions such as this album’s title track, ‘Intertwined’ and ‘The Window’ are up there with his best – but what lifts Shifting Sands from very good to truly great is the playing (described by my Jazzwise colleague John Fordham as “incandescent”) and interplay of this trio. Longtime collaborator Shirinov has an almost telepathic rapport with his boss, but the addition of recent Berklee graduate Kaspi adds real percussive heft to the proceedings. The result is a mixture of musical dexterity, precision, pianistic lyricism, virtuosic dazzle and power with a strong group feel and a pleasingly upbeat vibe, particularly on the sweet and summery traditional tune ‘Hitragut’ or Cohen’s thoughtful composition ‘Dvash. Three supremely gifted musicians, playing first-rate originals and pushing each other on in the process. What’s not to like? One of 2022’s best, without doubt.

Kevin Whitlock 

Jazzwise spoke to Avishai Cohen: What made you return to the trio format? As a leader, bassist, and composer, what appeals to you about the threesome?

I feel comfortable in many different settings, but in this trio I really feel very at ease with the musicians who surround me. Elchin and Roni are bringing their musicality to this album as well, it really became a Trio album and this you will hear in the music throughout as well. Trios have always been the very centre of my music and creation, from the very early days as a leader and composer of my music, a piano trio has a special, magic chemistry and covers all possible bases.

Pianist Elchin Shirinov you have a relationship with already – but Roni Kaspi has fitted in beautifully, while also bringing new ideas to the table. For a 21 year old, she is remarkable… how did you discover/hook up with her?

I met Roni during lockdown via Instagram; I was posting some short videos of me playing and singing and Roni added her own drums to one of them, which I enjoyed very much. So I reached out to her when she was still just 20 years old, I was so impressed by her playing, maturity and unique energy. So, since September 2020 Roni has been a constant in the drum chair… I am always excited to play with Roni and Elchin. We connect and let the music fly and engage with the audience too… it’s an instant flow for all three of us.

I understand you wrote the music for Shifting Sands at home, on a piano, during lockdown. How did you then develop these piano compositions for a bass-piano-drums combo?

As you say, the compositions on Shifting Sands were born at my home near Jerusalem on my piano during the pandemic. It was an unusual way of working, but at the same time I found it cool and challenging to at least excite a few people every day, by posting my progress to the fans via social media. And it excited me too. Not being able to play shows for such a long time had never happened to me before and that experience made me appreciate what I get to do for a living even more than I did before. The compositions came to life when I played with my trio at some shows in the summer of 2021 in Europe, before we went to Sweden to record them in one session over three days. That unity between human, sound and soul created a sublime, sonically-layered recording that links the compositions with a very youthful energy thriving through the music. It’s a lovely recipe of three minds, I enjoyed making it so much.

Kevin Whitlock

Read the full interview here: JazzWise Interview with Avisahi Cohen PDF

Avishai Cohen